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Idaho bill aimed at abortion funding heads to Senate

Posted at 1:42 PM, Mar 03, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-03 15:42:08-05

BOISE — A bill in Idaho that would ban any public money from going to organizations that provide abortions headed to the Senate on Tuesday.

The House voted 52-17 to approve the measure that is expected by both backers and opponents to be challenged in federal court if it becomes law.

Federal and state law already ban public funding for abortion except in certain circumstances, such as when a pregnancy results from rape or incest or endangers the pregnant woman’s life. But health care providers who perform abortions can receive public funding for other medical services. The bill seeks to cut off that funding.

“If you perform abortions, you don’t get taxpayer dollars,” said Republican Rep. Bryan Zollinger. He has said the legislation would cut off about $500,000 annually, mainly to Planned Parenthood.

The Idaho attorney general’s office has warned lawmakers that the legislation would likely draw lawsuits.

Opponents say the bill targets qualified Medicaid providers, which under federal law must be included in exceptions and allowed to receive taxpayer dollars.

“It is not included in this bill,” said Democratic Rep. John Gannon, an attorney, “and, therefore, it is not legally defensible.”

However, Zollinger, also an attorney, said the Idaho legislation is patterned after an Ohio anti-abortion law that blocks public money for Planned Parenthood.

In March, the full 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower federal court ruling in that case. The Ohio law targeted funding that Planned Parenthood receives through the state’s health department. That money is mostly from the federal government and supports education and prevention programs.

Zollinger noted that even if a federal court in Idaho and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which oversees Idaho, ruled differently, it would set up a test case before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Republican Rep. Heather Scott opposed the legislation because it allows the use of public funds for abortions due to rape and incest. She said that would allow public health districts and counties to perform abortions using grants or other funding under the legislation.

Democratic Rep. Melissa Wintrow said the legislation was an attack on Planned Parenthood and the many health services it provides that include cancer screening, pregnancy testing and birth control.

“This bill does nothing but harass and try to choke out services for women and families,” she said. “I’m tired of the assault on this organization.”